Freddie Fellowes – Secret Garden Party organiser

May 13, 2007

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Freddie Fellowes (centre) and Secret Garden party organisers at the Burning Man Festival Nevada desert September 2006

There’s a rumour doing the rounds on the internet that Lord Frederick Windsor, Prince William’s cousin, is the brains of the Secret Garden Party. ‘I love that one. It’s brilliant. I don’t know how they got that impression,’ chuckles Freddie, the real organiser. Yet the rumour is not that far-fetched.

Freddie refuses to give his surname, but a trawl of press cuttings reveals that he is one Freddie Fellowes and that a first name is not the only thing he has in common with Windsor. Fellowes, 29, was in the year above Lord Windsor at Eton and, on the death of his father John Ailwyn Fellowes, 4th Baron de Ramsey, will inherit a baronetcy and £35m.

Three years ago, he used a nest-egg left to him in his grandfather’s will to fund the first Secret Garden Party, which ’caused a few raised eyebrows’ in the family. Influenced by free rave parties, Fellowes dreamt of inspiring people and creating a space where they could play and interact, with music secondary in importance. ‘This is more than just a concert or a weekend of people getting trashed in a field together,’ he explains.

There is no VIP area at the Secret Garden Party so, after being booted out of the dressing room, performers (who have in the past included Regina Spektor and Desmond Dekker) can either mix with the punters or leave. ‘You are only as good as the people who come to your party,’ says Fellowes. ‘A lot of our crew and guest list are fun, party people, so it would be a waste to have them all backstage, keeping each other amused.’

Fellowes says that he and a friend stumbled on the venue for the Secret Garden Party, the grounds of a Georgian stately home on the Abbots Ripton estate in Cambridgeshire, as part of a job sourcing party venues for Red Bull, although it’s more likely that they just asked his father, who owns the estate.

Now in its fourth year, the Secret Garden Party remains resolutely anti-corporate (Fellowes recently turned down a generous offer for sponsorship from Budweiser because he ‘doesn’t like their beer’).

When it comes to the festival’s finances, Fellowes is somewhat hazy. ‘For the first two years, we broke our budget by five figures. Last year was the first year we broke even – we’re still not quite sure to what degree. We could have made 10 grand or 500, but we certainly got ourselves in the black.’

Not all of Fellowes’s flock are ecstatic about the parties; last year’s was almost called off after people complained that the sound travelled to villages eight miles away. Luckily for Fellowes and the 6,000 people who had bought tickets, a licence was granted the day before the festival was due to start.

Faced with problems like this, what makes Fellowes carry on? ‘A couple of years ago, we got an email from a girl who, four months before the Secret Garden Party, had been in an accident and ended up in a wheelchair, having lost the use of her legs. She said she didn’t think she could ever enjoy life again but that coming to the Secret Garden Party turned everything around for her and completely changed her outlook on life.’

And while it may seem frivolous, Fellowes is serious about his commitment to throwing the perfect party: ‘We aim the event towards getting as many people to meet as possible. What you remember about a party is the people you meet. That’s where the magic is, not seeing the most amazing band in the world.’

This piece first appeared in Observer Review’s Festival special

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